Why is Google stepping in to ensure the legacy of Bletchley Park.

As I have an interest in World War II, I was intrigued by the BBC story on Google’s interest in Bletchley Park, especially as it is based just down the road from Melon HQ. In the last 30 years a veil of secrecy has been lifted from Station X (Bletchley Park's war time designation), revealing the astonishing code-breakers that helped the allies prevail in World War II.

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As I have an interest in World War II, I was intrigued by the BBC story on Google’s interest in Bletchley Park, especially as it is based just down the road from Melon HQ. In the last 30 years a veil of secrecy has been lifted from Station X (Bletchley Park's war time designation), revealing the astonishing code-breakers that helped the allies prevail in World War II, the BBC said;

“Technology giant Google normally has its eyes fixed firmly on the future. But it has turned its attention to an old house in England to help preserve a slice of computing history. For nearly half a century after World War II, a Victorian manor house in Buckinghamshire lay neglected and unloved, its dilapidated buildings falling into disrepair. By the early 90s, plans even emerged to tear down the assorted boarded-up huts around the house and erect a supermarket in their place”.

The code-breakers successfully broke the Ultra and Tunny codes, without the enemy ever realising. It is difficult to measure its effect on the Allies winning the war, as General Alexander put it at the time, 'The knowledge not only of the enemy's precise strength and disposition, but also how, when and where he intends to carry out his operations brought a new dimension to the prosecution of the war.' Bletchley historian Sir Harry Hinsley maintains that without the intercepts, the outcomes of the Battle of the Atlantic, the North African campaign, and possibly the entire war would have been in the balance. As a result of the "Ultra" intelligence provided, it's been said that the war may have been shortened by anything from two to four years, if you average out lives lost in WW2, it's 12 million per year, no wonder prime minister Winston Churchill described the code-breakers as "the geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled".

In the breaking of the codes the mathematicians and intelligence officers figured out how German encryption devices like the Enigma worked, at first without even seeing the German coding equipment. In the lead up to the D-Day landings and the liberation of Europe, to break the ever more complicated codes, a man called Tommy Flowers working with mathematicians like Alan Turing, created Colossus which was the first electric programmable computer developed and first demonstrated in December 1943. This fact has had to be written into history as Bletchley Park's past came to light, the BBC story describes how Google became involved;

The story began a year ago when a tweet caught British-born Google cloud computing executive Simon Meacham's eye in northern California. The tweet about papers from Alan Turing - the maths genius who was key to much of the wartime code-breaking work - came from Sue Black, a London-based computing expert and longstanding campaigner for Bletchley Park. The papers - which included work from 1936 on "computable numbers" - were up for sale and therefore in danger of being lost to Bletchley. Turing had described an automatic machine which would be able to read and manipulate symbols on a tape through algorithms. These concepts would be put into practice in the war when the first electronic programmable computer was built at Bletchley in order to crack codes.

While code-breaking was an important application of Turing's work, what he conceived has gone on to change the world. The work of Turing and others was a central foundation for all computing technology including the algorithms that underpin Google's internet search engine and the page-ranking technology.

"I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that without Alan Turing, Google in the form we know it would not exist," says Peter Barron, head of external relations for Google in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

It's interesting to know that the foundation of the technology behind Google has local roots, and at Melon we see how working with that technology and Search Engine Optimisation still gives you ‘winning’ results today. Another mythical link today around Alan Turing is his sad suicide; he allegedly injected an apple with cyanide and took a bite out of it, the apple was found lying next to him, now where have I seen a logo like that?

The full BBC story is linked here